Tuesday, 23 January 2007

World may stop turning of 31 January 2007

Panic is palpable across Britain as thousands of civil servants have voted to strike on 31 January.
Regulation will become Byzantine as civil servants eager to undue the regulating urges of other civil servants miss a day’s work, soft loans for exporters may be delayed, and public service advertising will remain patronising! And how will any of us survive without HM Revenue and Customs checking up on whether we have paid enough tax or imported too many cigarettes?

Of course, a few people will suffer from this; mainly poor people. Job centres and benefits offices will be closed, meaning that either people will get their benefits without having to sign on (so having no impact at all) or their benefits will be delayed (causing suffering to the most needy). It makes more sense that driving tests will be delayed, as these are exactly the sort of service that the government should be privatising, though it is ironic that while the strike is about the Public and Commercial Services Union’s opposition to privatisation, this particular service is not one of those in the frame. And the courts will be hit, but some might argue that justice is so slow that nobody will really notice.

Of the 280,000 members balloted, 61,488 voted in favour of the strike and 38,823 voting against. In a brilliant example of wilful misrepresentation, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said the size of the majority showed the anger at the way civil and public servants were being treated. Some might counter that the fact that almost two thirds could not be bothered to vote implies that the result shows the total apathy of Mr. Serwotka’s members, and that basing a strike on the opinion of barely a fifth of his membership suggests that the agenda being pursued here is Mr. Serwotka’s rather than that of his members. But that’s union politics for you.

In fact, the main impact of the PCS strike will be that for one day only thousands of civil servants will not get paid. That should save the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds. So here is a novel suggestion: rather than the citizens of the UK missing out on this non-event, why not give every taxpayer a tiny tax rebate. On 1 February, when they wake to find a couple more quid in the bank and civilisation still intact, they will really be able to judge whether they are getting value for money from their public servants.


Anonymous said...

31 January is the last day for the return of self-assessment tax forms so the strike will also hit higher earners (or at least those subject to self-assessment who leave it to the last minute to submit their returns...).

So, at least arguably,it will hit lazy high earners...

Mark Valladares said...


I note that the turnout in our strike ballot was not dissimilar to the turnout last year in Penge and Cator ward.

It was somewhat higher than that in the last European elections, yet you aren't suggesting that Sarah Ludford has no right to be an MEP.

A rather lazy piece of union bashing, might I suggest?

Tom Papworth said...

...or is it civil servant bashing?

I like your suggestion that the low turnout undermines the validity of the vote in Penge & Cator, though :oD

However, I stick to my point that most people won't notice a civil service strike, and those that do will not be rushing back home to write to their MP demanding that the Government cave in to union pressure.

Collective bargaining is one thing. Attempting to coerce your employer by harming his/her customers is another (especially when those customers don't have any alternative).

Tristan said...

A low turnout doesn't invalidate the vote, but it does rather invalidate claims of great support for the strike from members - in the same way it does for elected representatives.

Tom Papworth said...

I don't think anybody is really saying that it invalidates the vote. Just that it's far from a ringing endorsement.

To press home Mark's election analogy:

1) General elections see turnouts of 60% – twice that which Mr. Serwotka suggested was a ringing endorsement – and our politicians rightfully fret that there is a crisis of democracy

2) Local elections see turnouts of 40% because local government has been emasculated by the centralising tendencies of both Thatcher and Blair.

3) EU elections get turnouts of 30% and the words “Demographic deficit” are constantly on the lips of Europhiles and Europhobes alike.

What is more, these figures include many people who are on the electoral roll but have no desire to play a part.

Members of the PCS, on the other hand, have chosen to and paid to join. If even these willing members cannot be encouraged to vote, that suggests something is seriously wrong. If 60% of Liberal Democrat party members did not vote in a local election I would be genuinely concerned.

Pertru said...

i work for a london museum. I acceoted low pay for a worthwhile, satisfying job with stability, security and a good income. The latter are being withdrawn as is gauranteed overtime so the i am left with £1100 a month net take home pay. If we di not have either cheap lodgings in london, a private income or a spouse who earns considerably more we could not survive any more. The bosses know this but still exploit it. Enough is enough. The goverment and ministers say we earn a reasoable wage ( for a 6 day week with 2 days off afterwards!)If they think we have a reasonable rate then pay us a living wage or maybe, like the nurses, we should join an agency earn twice as much and have no particular dedication to develpong our site for the public's enjoyment.
If you want us to have a commercial life then pau us a commercial wage.